43 - Behind the Curtain on The Social Dilemma

November 11, 2021

How do you make a film that impacts more than 100 million people in 190 countries in 30 languages?

This week on Your Undivided Attention, we're going behind the curtain on The Social Dilemma — the Netflix documentary about the dark consequences of the social media business model, which featured the Center for Humane Technology. On the heels of the film's 1-year anniversary and winning of 2 Emmy Awards, we're talking with Exposure Labs' Director Jeff Orlowski and Producer Larissa Rhodes. What moved Jeff and Larissa to shift their focus from climate change to social media? How did the film transform countless lives, including ours and possibly yours? What might we do differently if we were producing the film today? 

Join us as we explore the reverberations of The Social Dilemma — which we're still feeling the effects of over one year later. 


Guests

Jeff Orlowski is the director, producer, and cinematographer of the award-winning films Chasing Coral and Chasing Ice. Chasing Coral received the US Documentary Audience Award at Sundance in 2017. Chasing Ice received the Documentary Cinematography award at Sundance in 2012, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Both films were shortlisted for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, screened at Congress and the United Nations, and have garnered awards and accolades from film festivals around the globe. Jeff founded Exposure Labs, a production company dedicated to impact through film. His latest film, The Social Dilemma, had its world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and is now featured on Netflix.

Larissa Rhodes is a filmmaker and Vice President / Head of Production at Exposure Labs, where she develops projects that are environmentally- and socially-minded. The Social Dilemma is her latest Producing project, which had its world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and can now be found on Netflix. Rhodes previously produced the Sundance, Peabody, and Emmy award-winning film Chasing Coral, a feature film following a team of adventurers working to reveal how the oceans are changing, and also worked on the Emmy Award-winning documentary Chasing Ice.

Episode Highlights

Major Takeaways

  • Exposure Labs' Jeff Orlowski and Larissa Rhodes started their film career focused on climate change. But what they realized was that the social media issue is foundational to the climate issue — that our polluted information ecosystem actually underlies pollution in our environmental ecosystem.
  • While making films about climate change, Exposure Labs was focused on the extractive business model that drives fossil fuels. Which then mirrored the focus of The Social Dilemma: the extractive business model that drives social media. As the organizing principle for the film, the social media business model differentiates The Social Dilemma from other films about social media.
  • Jeff and Larissa deliberately designed a film that would speak to the broadest swath of viewers. Which is how they landed on the frame of the family — and turned a would-be documentary into a docu-drama that millions of people worldwide can directly relate to. 
  • The impact of the The Social Dilemma exceeded all of our expectations. The film has been watched by more than 100 million people in 190 countries in 30 languages, and recently won 2 Emmy Awards. As one data point, when Tim Cook announced Apple's new privacy features, he referenced the film — saying "we cannot allow a social dilemma to become a social catastrophe."
  • If Jeff and Larissa were producing the film today they would include more voices. Along with tech insiders, they would feature a greater diversity of researchers and academics, activists, and people directly harmed by social media. 
  • There are countless stories of impact. One of Tristan’s favorites is Brandi Carlile and Renée Elise Goldsberry’s rap remix of Nina Simone’s “I Put A Spell on You” — which they made as a tribute to The Social Dilemma. Listen for it at the end of the episode :)

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